Critical Perspective Of Marxism And Foucauldian Sociology Essay

Critical theory dates back to the Enlightenment and is connected to the writings of Kant, Hegel and Marx. ‘However, in the 20th century, critical theory became closely associated with a distinct body of thought, known as the Frankfurt School’. It states Devetak in Burchill’s and Linklater’s ‘Theories of International Relations’. It is the work of Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Fromm and more recently, Habermas that critical theory has acquired a renewed strength.

Thus, the term ‘critical theory’ was used as the symbol of a philosophy which questions the effective order of political and social modernity through an order of immanent critique. It was mainly an attempt to regain a critical potential that had been overrun by recent intellectual, social, cultural, economic and technological trends.

The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory is the longest and most famous traditions of Marxism.  This tradition is often referred as critical theory- meaning a special kind of social philosophy from its inception in 1923 by Felix Weil (Seiler, 2004).  The critical theory of society of the Frankfurt School continues to excite interest and controversy (Kellner, 2001). 

A theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human emancipation, to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.  A number of critical theories have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimension of the domination of human beings in modern societies (Gutting, 2003).

The above statement sets the mood for this paper as I will be looking at how the critical management theory of yesterday applies to the modern western today.  Another key aspect will be on trying to articulate the connections between the management perspectives of contemporary society in the critical theory.  The focus will be on

The focus will be on as the location for cooperative, practical and transformative activity continues today.  This attempt will be on determining the nature and limits of real democracy in complex, pluralistic, and globalised societies.

what is it, why is it applied to management)

Introduction part 2 (150): Marx and Foucault as critical theorists (an overview of their thought).

A Marxist’s thought is based on this lifestyle, a science of logic called Dialectics. Thus, Marxism is both a theory and a practice. The theories of Marxism are based on a scientific method of thought called dialectal materialism.  Theory is based on a particular set of conditions that are always finite, and thus, any theory is necessarily limited. To test the validity of theory, Marxists rely on empirical evidence as the criteria of truth (Basgen, 2005).


Marxism embraces modernity and Marxists argue that one of the main problems is that capitalism puts fetters on the progressive forces. The forces of capitalism are viewed as progressive in sweeping away the traditional, religious, backward, and feudal forms of society, spreading industrialisation and urbanisation across societies (Moody, 2003).


Marx’s critique of capitalism was that while this system had incredible power and potential to transform human society positively, in actual fact it resulted in exploitation and ultimately limited the possibility for further improvement (Powell, 2001). Moody (2003), describe this environment as workers were emancipated from traditional limits but became slaves of the new factory system, monopolisation resulted in limits on trade and further progress, and the state acted in the interests of the bourgeoisie rather than society as a whole.

Followed by your argument (that they each offer a distinct analysis (Foucault as a critic of Marxism’s humanism, subjectivity and economic reductionism) but both are useful to evaluate management approaches – Marx for economic relationships between manager and worker and Foucault for patterns in disciplinary behaviour found in managerial practices.



The term Critical theory has its origins in the 20th century Frankfurt School, and now is associated with scholars across a range of disciplines.  Its purpose of inquiry is to confront injustices in society (Clark, 2004).  Critical Theory has been deeply concerned with the fate of modernity, and has offered systematic and comprehensive theories of the trajectory of modernity. Critical theory began by putting Marxian political economy at the centre of analysis, and early critical theory was materialist and committed to socialism (Gingrich, 2000). 

 Critical theory has generally been committed to the idea of modernity and progress, while at the same time noting the ways that features of modernity can create problems for individuals and society (Kellner, 2000). This is much reflected on the 21st century, though there is progress in many things, but still issues like globalisation tends to pose important problems for the society. 

  According to Heilman (1998), being critical involves understanding the sets of historically contingent circumstances and contradictory power relationships that create the conditions in which we live.  Theory helps us to organize the world, to sort out the details, to make some coherent sense out of a kaleidoscope of sensations (Ayers, 1992).

 When theory is theorized, as stated by Heilman (1998), the imperatives of practice bring the theory down to the ground.  Phenomena are observed and experienced; this experience informs theory; and then the theory is further modified as a result of additional practice.  Rather like fiction writing, critical theorizing is a process of imagining and describing a nonreal but possible world.

 The critical theorists have deeply influenced contemporary social theory, communication theories, cultural theory and many more for a number of decades.  According to Clark (2004), Critical theorists are committed to understand the relationship between societal structures (such as economic and political) and ideological patterns of thought that constrain the human imagination and thus limit opportunities for confronting and changing unjust social systems.  Critical theorists emphasise that theory and research must serve emancipatory interests, to create a world that satisfies the needs and powers of social actors (Sanghera, 2004). 

 According to critical theory, people are dominated by a false consciousness created and perpetuated by capitalism in order to preserve the hegemony of those in power (Meyer-Emerick, 2004).  Due to this cause, one can assume that it prevents people from freely pursuing their own interests.  This dissent is only dismissed if people begin to see the contradictions between the social construction of the world and their lived experience. 


 The critical theorists analysed the integration of the working class into advanced capitalist societies and suggested the need for new agents of a social change.  They seemed to provide more vivid descriptions of the present configurations of culture and society (Kellner, 2004). 

According to my understanding, we look into the critical theory of the past to gain methodological insight and political inspiration to carry on the tasks of critical social theory in the present time.  Critical theory is crucial for South Africa including the whole African continent, as we are undergoing vast transformations.   Some of these transformations are promising to uplift our standard of living as the society, but others are threatening.  Globalisation is one of the new transformations. 

 Revolutionary Marxists maintain that although change may arise as an unintended consequence of molecular acts of resistance, the importance of resistance is that it can generate collective agents capable of pursuing the conscious goal of social change (Hassard, 2001).  This self-limiting resistance, orchestrated from above and aimed solely at affecting them as described by Hassard, is less likely to be successful in achieving even minor reforms than resistance that aims to effect a revolutionary transformation of society.

 We have seen an interesting case here in South Africa opposed to what Marxists declared to be politically uninteresting which is labour process theory.  Their argument is that it does not engage with the issues of political and trade union organization, which influence the consciousness and unity of workers (Hogan, 2001).  COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Union) which is having close ties with the ANC (African National Congress) is making this labour process very interesting.  Cosatu fights for the rights of workers while promoting the spirit of unity.  They do this in a unified political activity.

 Although the immediate interests of workers in production may diverge, their grievances and interests can be unified into a common political program, but that unification is a political achievement.  This is more apparent on what happened recently with the case of Zimbabwe where Cosatu wanted to have talks with Zimbabwe’s congress of Trade Union.  Cosatu believes that the unification of workers can have a huge impact on political changes as MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) is aiming at changing the political affairs of Zimbabwe ahead of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF (the ruling party). 

Marx’s critique of capitalism

Capitalism is the system that upholds the relationship between the owners of the means of production and workers. The former comprise the bourgeois class and the latter the proletariat. (Bourgeois managers, proletariat workers). Marx’s analysis of the factory can be translated to the office environment, the relationship between the two classes remains, e.g. office workers do not own the company, equipment and materials the belong to the company. Counter agreement is that companies give share to employees, however, shares are small they don’t give power to the employees but it is a form of making them employees feel part of the company in order to gain more out of them .

The bourgeois (managers that have control)

Commodity fetishism

Culture of the commodity, or what a capitalist organisation produces, as containing a value dependant on market factors, rather than on the activity of labour. This produces an objective relationship between commodities and labourers are reduced to the condition and status of the commodities they produce. Implications for critical theory looking at management approaches:

Prices of commodity go up and down and so does the price of labour cost e.g. recession

Salary: paid no matter how much they produce

Bonus: to encourage production to increase profits

Marx: (800wrds) Exploitation as Alienation

Explain Marx’s articulation of exploitation. The practice of mistreat of workers in an environment that is deliberately designed to maintain it, i.e. capitalism,

Marx’s conforming – the workers alienated by/owners of the means of production to gain profits at the expense of the workers (e.g. managers forcing employees to undertake tasks outside their job description in order to cut costs and maximise profits) because people are alienated they conform to the demands of their employers in order to keep jobs safe.

Foucault bound to rules,

rule-bound individual,

Marx’s Humanism


Strucralist, came after Marx

Moves away from the economics of Marx. Looks at power and reconceptualises it. Management as a representation of power relations in society. Specific rules maintain, regulate and institutionalize practices in a work environment (office, factory, school, etc),

Power- Disciplinary power – the panopticon as a illustration of society, the middle tower is all seeing yet prisoners always obey without knowing for certain whether they are being monitored, by whom or by how many. The result is the creation of self-regulating, obedient and disciplined prisoners (at least in theory). Relate this form of disciplinary power to management.

Power as the central driving force in a society within a group of people in a working environment. Manager doesn’t create a system the manager merely plays along with the rules, thus maintaining the relations of dominance and dominated.

Discourses (rules that we work within and obey) and all to do with power

Power-Knowledge, all power engenders power and (hanin essay). The rules that are emplace are their to maximise profits and to make the workforce obedient, docile subjects ; alternative view to commodity fetishism, marx says the worker turns in to a commodity that is commodity fetishism, Focault would say that the individual is merely the collective of the discourses they obey. The two concerns are that’s 1. Marx looks at the economy 2. Foucault looks at power.

3 objections to ideology (Marx)

1. requires an opposing concept of scientific truth

2. implies that we are subjects(agents of history to change it)

3. relative to economic superstructure

MICHEL FOUCALT (1926 – 1984)

 His studies challenged the influence of German political philosopher Karl Marx and Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Foucault offered new concepts that challenged people’s assumptions about prisons, the police, insurance, care of the mentally ill, gay rights, and welfare (Ron, 2000).

 The main influences on Foucault’s thought were German philosophers Frederick Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.  The website, describe Foucault’s thought as explored the shifting patterns of power within a society and the ways in which power relates to the self. He investigated the changing rules governing the kind of claims that could be taken seriously as true or false at different times in history.

Marx Vs Foucault

Foucault would argue that power relations are the units of analysis, not the individual; in other words the individual is created by power-knowledge (power is above all creative, it creates subjects). Marx puts the individual at the centre, where the subject is conscious of his role in the historical process.

Humanism (placing the individual at the centre of events, man as the agent, as the creator of history (what Foucault critiques as a structuralist philosopher). Marx’s humanism can be defined as

Power-Knowledge, all power engenders power and (hanin essay). The rules that are emplace are their to maximise profits and to make the workforce obedient, docile subjects ; alternative view to commodity fetishism, marx says the worker turns in to a commodity that is commodity fetishism, Focault would say that the individual is merely the collective of the discourses they obey. The two concerns are that’s 1. Marx looks at the economy 2. Foucault looks at power.

600 word on whether Scientific management theory can better cope with analysis of management than Marx and Foucault

Scientific management (Taylor System) also known as Taylorism is a theory of management that analysis and manufactures workflows to improve employee (labour) productivity. The idea was developed by a Frederick Winslow Taylor between 1880 and 1890, and it was the first published ‘monograph’ (written documents). Frederick Taylor believed that decisions based upon tradition and the rules of the thumb should be replaced by accurate procedures that are developed after a study of an individual at work. This means that there is a high level of managerial control over employee work practices. Scientific management is a distinction on the theme of ‘efficiency’; it developed in the 19th and 20th century were instance of large recurring theme in the human life of increasing efficiency, decreasing waste and using experiential methods to dictate what matters rather than accepting pre-existing ideas of what matters. Management today is the greatest use of scientific management is a form to contrast a new and improved way of doing business.

The Marxist theory of capital sees labour as a cost of production resulting in the alienation of workers as the need for labour surfaces from the physical needs “defined by the fundamental relationship between humans and their physical environment” (Hatch, 1997, p.27).  Taylor’s ideas on scientific management (1990) have similar economic themes to Marx and Adam Smith.  By viewing management as a science, he broke down the managerial problem into stages of research, definition, analysis and implementation.  His principles were inherently based on the assumption that people put in as little effort as possible into their work and were soldiering on in order to earn money.  This shifted all the responsibility from the worker to the manager and scientific methods were used to determine the most efficient way of working.  After selecting the best person capable of performing the task, they were trained to work efficiently and their performance was strictly monitored.  In hindsight, though this may have appeared to be a good generic strategy for the success of a firm, it heavily depended on whether the optimal method of producing could be found and whether or not the strategy was implemented correctly.                 


“Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack” (Buckingham, 2005).  Managers are only as good as their ideas, resources and workers.  The way in which he deploys the resources at his disposal is essentially the making or breaking of a manager.  Great managers are able to discover and develop what is different about each person who works for them.  Strictly defining management and the role of managers can only be done after the managerial act has been observed in reality, the majority of the analysis is theoretical evaluation and speculation based on past examples.   It is important to understand that the perception of what managers are supposed to do evolves with the industry and technology that runs parallel to the growth of a firm.  Managers used to control by fear and use absolute power, however, a more humanistic approach is now used, in which the employee is valued in the decision making process undertaken by the manager. 

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